By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
WEST POINT – Tupelo’s Fletcher Johnson became the youngest State Amateur golf champion in 60 years with his victory last summer.
Johnson, now 18, would like to become the second youngest champion this week when the Mississippi Golf Association’s annual 72-hole event tees off Thursday through Sunday at Old Waverly Golf Club.
“I had a fun week last year,” said Johnson, the Mississippi State signee who helped Tupelo High School win its fourth consecutive state championship last month. “Hopefully, I can repeat this week.”
Johnson, who recorded a hole-in-one and an eagle in his final round last year at the Country Club of Jackson, won the tournament by seven strokes. His closest challenger was Ole Miss standout Jonathan Randolph.
Johnson, who has changed his putting style recently, believes the best putter on Old Waverly’s hard, fast Bermuda greens will win.
Four years ago, when Johnson played in the Southern Junior at Ole Waverly, the course’s greens were bent grass.
“Those (bent grass) greens were more receptive to iron shots,” he said. “The course is totally different now with the Bermuda greens. It’s going to be hard to get close. You better be prepared for a lot of 30 footers.”
Johnson switched from a traditional putting grip to a claw-style grip during the high school season.
“I’ve been putting a lot better since I switched to the claw,” he said. “I’m a whole lot better in the 7- to 12-foot range.
“I think the key to winning this week is to make a lot of pars. You’re not going to make a lot of birdies.”
Johnson is excited about the way he’s played and practiced the last few weeks. He played in a U.S. Open sectional qualifier recently and missed the qualifying cut by one shot.
He worked last week with his coach, V.J. Trolio, a professional at Old Waverly.
“My game’s pretty good right now,” Johnson said.
Along with battling the course’s tough greens, the golfers will have to fight the effects of the intense 90-plus heat.
“It’s going to play a factor; it can mess with your mind,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to stay hydrated, cool, and stay focused. You can’t let the heat bother you.”